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Five tools to take your recipe file digital

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My recipe file — a giant turquoise file folder that’s about to burst — is both an eyesore and an impediment in my quest to create a paperless home. So I recently decided to digitize it. My goal was to create something easily searchable but also, hopefully, fun to browse the way a physical recipe file is. Here are the tools I’m using to complete this project — plus, how the project’s going so far.

evernote laura recipe fileEvernote

I’m storing the recipes themselves in Evernote (which has also been my main tool overall in going paperless). I have a Premium subscription which, for $45 a year, lets me upload 1 GB of files per month — more than enough to store all the recipes I have now, along with new ones in the future. I use the Evernote Chrome extension to “clip” recipes from the web and save them with lots of tags. Evernote also offers Optical Character Recognition, so when I have to scan in a recipe (more on that below) its text also becomes searchable.

Evernote’s not the only recipe-storing option: My colleague Kevin Fitchard, who’s written a lot about tech, food and the challenges of storing digital recipes, uses the Paprika app (Mac(s AAPL), iOS and Android(s goog)) for capturing recipes from the web. MacGourmet and KeepRecipes offer similar services, and Pinterest just acquired Punchfork, a service that aggregates culinary ideas and recipes across the web.

Fujitsu ScanSnap for Mac

The Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M is a splurge ($419.99 on Amazon) that I shelled out for because it can scan a lot of double-sided paper really fast. That’s useful for going paperless in general and for scanning, say, stacks of old tax returns, but it’s not necessarily so handy for recipes: Most of the recipes I’ve saved are little pieces of paper clipped from magazines, and although the ScanSnap can usually handle them fine, it’s easier to just find them online and save them to Evernote (for more on the recipes I find online, see below). I use the ScanSnap for recipes that aren’t duplicated elsewhere (index cards from my grandma, for instance).

Smartphone scanning app

I’m simultaneously trying to cut down on my big print cookbook collection, and a smartphone scanning app lets me save individual recipes from those books (I’ve found that many of them contain only a few recipes that I want to make regularly) without tearing out pages. That way I can sell or donate the cookbooks undamaged. I’ve been using the DocScanner iPhone app ($4.99) for this, but it’s clunky to use and a recent upgrade made it worse, so I’ll probably switch to the well-reviewed ScannerPro app for iOS ($6.99).


The bulk of the recipes in my recipe file come from four publications: Bon Appétit, the now-defunct Gourmet, Cook’s Illustrated magazine and the New York Times (s NYT). But there’s no reason to save those recipes in print — or to scan the print versions — when most of them are available free online. Epicurious has almost all cook's illustratedthe recipes from Bon Appetit and Gourmet and has recipes going back for years, so all I have to do is Google the recipe’s title, pull up the page and Evernote it. (I usually Evernote the print view to avoid saving a bunch of unneeded sidebars and images.) Cook’s Illustrated‘s recipes are also all online, though they’re behind a paywall; I bought a membership ($34.95 per year) and I’m now Evernoting all the recipes I clipped from the print magazine over the years.

So far my recipe file digitization project has been more time-consuming than I’d imagined it would be, but I’m already seeing the benefits. The Evernote notebook where I keep my recipes may not be as fun to browse through as my old paper recipe file, but having the recipes in a searchable digital format makes it a lot easier to actually remember what I’ve saved. Tags are especially helpful: Unlike in a physical recipe file, where a recipe can only go in one pocket, Evernote lets you store a single recipe under both, say, “Thanksgiving” and “vegetarian main course.”

The system’s not perfect. In some ways, it’s still easier to cook from a piece of paper than from a digital device — though there are certainly plenty of iPad kitchen shields out there. There are a few family recipes I want to keep as physical objects, so I’m saving a few old, kitchen-spattered index cards as keepsakes. But I’m scanning them, too — that way, I won’t ever lose them. My giant turquoise recipe file isn’t gone yet, but at least it’s getting slimmer, and the day will come when I can get rid of it all together.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock / Jiri Hera

13 Responses to “Five tools to take your recipe file digital”

  1. You should check out the new Epicurious recipe box. not only can you download ecookbooks, you can install a recipe clipper that lets you get a recipe from ANYWHERE and put it in your recipe box. Including Pintrest! So those visual inspiraition when originating from a recipe can be saved in a recipe box.

  2. Jim Polichak

    The problem of using a pad or laptop in the kitchen is solved by printing the recipe out on a sheet of paper.
    If there’s room on the bottom I include an ingredients check list. Make sure I have every thing I need & if I don’t take the list to the store.
    When the meal is over – Recycle the paper.

  3. Kate Handel

    You might also try BigOven. You can use the mobile apps to take photos of typed or handwritten paper recipes, and BigOven types them for you into fully portable, scalable, searchable recipes. You can add web recipes by pasting a url, plus you can get started with over 250,000 public recipes from other cooks to search too. BigOven offers a grocery list, a menu planner, re-usable menus and more, which all sync across all devices and the web. Unlike Paprika, BigOven does offer a fully functional website that automatically syncs with its mobile apps.

    • I actually do mention Paprika above, in the Evernote section. The primary reasons I don’t use it: I have a lot of recipes that are not on the web that I did not want to type in manually; I prefer tagging to categories; and since I already use Evernote for other stuff, I didn’t want to add another system. But Paprika definitely seems like a great solution for a lot of people.

    • Laura-

      I recently captured all of my recipes via Paprika and it was very easy. I’m interested in your experiences capturing printed and handwritten recipes. Can you comment on the tools you’ve tried since writing the article and what you recommend? Did you scan them to an image and save the image, or did you actually OCR the recipes? I’d kind of like to do the latter to make them searchable.